Fights mar school days


Hudson addresses bad behavior by students and adults

HUDSON–Over 150 people filled the cafeteria and spilled out into the hallway at John L. Edwards Elementary School this week for a public hearing and on what measures would be taken to stop discord at the high school.

The special school board meeting Monday, November 29, was hastily scheduled during Thanksgiving break after the problems with fighting were discussed at last week’s regular board meeting. According to a report at the earlier meeting by High School Co-Principal Tom Gavin, “four assaults and two other highly disruptive incidents with large crowds,” occurred at the high school during the third week in November. The fights involved girls and were said to have been caused by communication through Facebook and other digital venues.

But students are not the only ones with behavior issues. Conflict is also a problem in the relationship between Mr. Gavin and the high school’s other co-principal, Steven Spicer. At the meeting a week ago it escalated to the point that Mr. Spicer filed charges and Mr. Gavin was suspended.

Speakers this Monday included board members, school safety officers, teachers, community residents, students and schools Superintendent John Howe. The superintendent read from a prepared statement also posted on the school website that addresses “fights, suspensions, arguments, and accusations of bad behavior,” issues he said he and the board are working to resolve. He asked for support from parents and the community, and repeatedly asked students to “do the right thing” so that the district can achieve a “safe and orderly learning environment.”

“The behavior of a small number of students can cause a large disturbance. Most students follow the rules and take school seriously. I know this is a source of frustration to them,” he said.

Mr. Howe mentioned suggestions gathered from faculty members at a recent meeting, ideas that that included improvement and enforcement of the district’s code of conduct. In his statement, he mentioned insubordinate behavior by students and students leaving the campus without permission, but did not specifically address the issue of cyber bullying.

Comments made by speakers Monday night confirmed that cell phones have created a problem in schools that will be hard to solve. Anecdotes about teachers answering their own phones in class, kids texting in class, hallways and bathrooms, and receiving text messages from their parents during the school day, show how the device that is so prevalent outside of school has created an enduring and intractable distraction inside schools.

Bob Rochler, safety officer for the high school, pointed out that while in the past, five adult men supervised hallways during lunch, on the day the fights occurred, Mr. Gavin was alone on hall duty. Budget cutbacks reduced the number of aides that would have assisted last year, and Mr. Rochler, who usually shares the task, was away too.

Mr. Rochler was among several people who mentioned rough, uncivil behavior and cursing by students in hallways and classrooms.

“They bring their home behavior to school,” he said. “Parents need to take responsibility; they shouldn’t blame others for their failure as a parent.”

Superintendent Howe said that after the incidents he requested teachers to come out of their classrooms into the hallways between classes. He said that produced positive results.

As for the adults in charge of the students, a clash occurred at the November 22 school board meeting between Mr. Gavin and his co-principal, Mr. Spicer. That incident led to Mr. Gavin being put on administrative leave; Mr. Spicer filed a harassment complaint against Mr. Gavin with the Hudson Police Department and is seeking an order of protection aimed at Mr. Gavin.

Mr. Gavin was appointed co-principal after the Alternative Learning Program was terminated last June. At the time he was put in charge of management of the high school, while Mr. Spicer was put in charge of instruction.

Mr. Spicer has applied for the position of principal of John L. Edwards Elementary School recently vacated by Acting Principal Carol Gans. He has complained in recent months about emotional problems related to his work situation and health problems related to diabetes. He fell into a diabetic coma at a school football game October 29, which resulted in a three-week absence from which he recently returned. He refrained from answering questions from The Columbia Paper after the close of Monday’s meeting. Mr. Gavin was not present at the Monday meeting.

The two co-principals heard expression of support and some criticism from members of the public. One speaker called the two-principal policy “an accident waiting to happen.”

Student Rachel Dumas presented a petition urging the administration to reinstate Mr. Gavin signed by a third of the high school students.

“If the two principals can’t get along, how do you expect students to get along?” asked one speaker.

“Give up hopelessness, powerlessness and apathy. Ask what can we do to make change,” urged Alan Skerett, head of the Columbia County N.A.A.C.P. and a member of the school affiliated group Parents in Partnership. “Be proactive, not reactive. The safety officer is not where it’s at. If we are the only school in the county that has safety officers, something is wrong with us,” he said.

“We need to be united respectfully, even when we disagree with each other,” said Superintendent Howe after the close of the meeting.

“Continue to come to board meetings and stay involved and engaged in the process,” urged recently elected board member Peter Rice, who did that himself when he had a problem with his child and the school.

Among the many tasks facing the district is revising its code of conduct to bring it up to date with to address new issues, like cyber bullying. The district also needs to roll out an anti-bullying program, something other districts in the county and around the country are also doing. The board plans to discuss creating a task force on the issue of fighting at its next meeting, and the administration says it will be listening to students more.

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